John Ashton is a familiar face to Metro-area theatergoers. The character actor, a fixture in Aurora’s local theater scene, recently appeared in Vintage Theatre Company’s Herculean undertaking of Tracy Letts’ feral drama August: Osage County.
Burly, balding Ashton is best known for his roles as Detective Sergeant John Taggart in the Martin Brest films Beverly Hills Cop I and II. Hector Elizondo stepped in for Ashton in the third film.
Beverly Hills Cop I & II
After the runaway success of the original Beverly Hills Cop, Paramount put its full support behind a sequel. And, despite some early drafts that wanted to turn the series into TV or send Axel Foley overseas on exotic assignments the filmmakers stuck with the familiar formula and the result was a funnier and more entertaining movie.
Burly, mustachioed character actor John Ashton is a perfect fit as the loudmouth Detroit detective Taggert in the sequel to the 1984 box office smash hit. And, he gets a chance to really let his character loose here with plenty of laughs and some great action sequences.
The 2.35:1 widescreen transfer on this 4K UHD Blu-ray from Paramount is solid, offering rich colors and fine detail throughout. Closeups and middle shots are especially impressive, highlighting every nook and cranny in the facial features of the cast. The lossless Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is potent and aggressive, delivering punchy gunfire and rumble of engines in the action scenes. And, the quiet dialog driven sequences are nicely balanced. A very good transfer for a fun film.
Unlike the majority of other road movies, Midnight Run isn’t simply a dull replay of cross-country crime/thriller/buddy movie conventions. What sets it apart is the way in which De Niro and Grodin elevate the formula to insta-classic status with their performances.
The picture is not only a vehicle to showcase Grodin’s talents as a comic actor; it also shows the remarkable versatility of Robert De Niro. His characterization of Jack Walsh, a hard-boiled ex-cop hired to grab an idealistic mob accountant who jumped bail and embezzled $15 million from his boss, is both touching and funny.
Director Martin Brest labored intensely over this script (he spent weekends on the empty Paramount lot polishing a handwritten outline spread across eight tables). But his efforts were well worth it. The solarmovie film is loaded with texture and depth, with only a handful of dimly-lit or nighttime scenes looking anything less than superb.
For Which He Stands
John Ashton is a burly, mustachioed character actor often cast as law enforcement or villainous heavies. He started acting lessons at age 12 and performed in the state’s premiere production of Othello. He also played baseball and football while attending Defiance College in Ohio before deciding to move to Los Angeles. He became a member of the Company of Angels theater group and earned a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for his performance in the Feydeau farce A Flea in Her Ear. He later appeared in Sam Shepard’s True West with Ed Harris and at the South Coast Repertory theater.
In this shamelessly slimy B movie treat, he stars as small time Las Vegas casino owner Johnny Rochetti, who runs afoul of some truly freakish cartel baddies. He plays the role like Liotta from Goodfellas crossed with Bronson from Death Wish, his belligerent cockiness wiped away by the very real danger stalking him and replaced with a reckless calm and willingness to get his hands dirty in the fight to defend those closest to him. The film also features Andrew Divoff as a gravel voiced psycho and Robert Davi in a memorable turn as the ruthless Carlos Escalara.
Uncle Sidney & the Mexicans
As the title character in this tense drama about race and law enforcement in a Texas town in the 1950s, Ashton exudes the rough-around-the-edges rascal quality that has defined his film image. He honed his craft as a member of the Company of Angels Theater Group in Los Angeles, earning the LA Drama Critics Award for his starring performance in the Feydeau farce A Flea in Her Ear and a Drama-Logue award for Sam Shepard’s True West.
A native of Springfield, MA, Ashton studied at the University of Southern California School of Theater before he moved to Hollywood. After a brief stint in summer stock on Cape Cod, he was cast in such small-screen roles as Kojak’s Sergeant Dobson and Police Story’s Officer Hobson before making his big-screen debut in 1973’s psycho thriller The Psychopath. From there, he began landing more prominent roles in feature films like Beverly Hills Cop I and II and Midnight Run. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Ashton continued to alternate between stage and screen, appearing in such notable productions as Meet the Deedles, Little Big League starring Minnesota Twins pitching coach Mac McNally and John Hughes’ She’s Having a Baby.
A lot of bloodshed and pyrotechnics in this taut political thriller about a patriotic marksman caught up against unseemly government forces. Antoine Fuqua has made his career directing action movies, and his familiar style shows up here: sweeping shots to dramatize the events, a focus on the thrill of the set-pieces rather than character development (except for the feisty Rhona Mitra, as an FBI ally of Swagger), and a dehumanizing focus on the “headshot.”
But if you can suspend your disbelief for this bloody but satisfying movie, then you’ll find plenty to like about it. Besides Ashton’s solid work, the picture benefits from a smart supporting cast and a parallel storyline within the FBI. Michael Pena, who has a knack for playing befuddled but sharp-minded characters, is particularly good as Agent Nick Memphis, who investigates Swagger’s plight. He was nominated for a Drama-Logue award in 1998 for his performance in the Company of Angels production of A Flea in Her Ear and later appeared with Ed Harris in Sam Shepard’s critically acclaimed True West.